Business & Economy
8:51 am
Tue July 29, 2014

Could Fresno Be The Next Tech Hub? These Techies Think So

This is the second story in a two part series by Ezra David Romero about what some are calling a tech boom in Central California. In this story we talk Fresno, in the first piece we explore Google, drones and Merced

Just over a year ago a ragtag team of 20 something’s in Fresno got tired of meeting in bars and coffee shops to design websites, write code and dream of a thriving tech community in the Valley.

As part of 59 Days of Code developers create an app or piece of software from ground up.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

“There’s a lot of stuff already happening, but why isn’t it in one place,” says Irma Olguin one of the founders of Bitwise Industries in Downtown Fresno.

So they decided to build their very own tech empire. But not in Silicon Valley or anywhere near the bay.

“We can pull this off in a place like Fresno and it’s not gonna take anything really more than a ton of hard work and developer skills,” Olguin says.

Let’s face it, Central California isn’t Silicon Valley or Mountain View. The region is known for innovation when it comes to water, dairies and tractors,  not software or tech. But companies both large and small throughout the region are trying to change that.

Five years ago Olguin created a tech conference called 59 Days of Code to challenge developers in the region to compete and show off their talent.

“It seemed like there was a problem in Fresno where we either didn’t have the talent or they were all busy and we put this competition together to showcase what talent was out there,” Olguin says.

"We're Fresno and we should be Fresno. To the extent that we keep trying to replicate others we will fail." - Jake Soberal

Olguin and a guy named Jake Soberal ran into each other at the fourth 59 Days of Code and teamed up to create a space for techies in Fresno to be around each other. They named the creative space BitWise Industries. In 2013 they opened their doors renting office space to tech companies and began offering coding classes.

This year was the fifth year of 59 Days of Code. I showed up for the event in Downtown Fresno and saw firsthand some of the software and apps created in less than 60 days. Jessa Garly is with the application Pantry Chef.

“What’s your app and what’s it all about?"

“Our app is a recipe list, a pantry list and a grocery list all in one," Garly says. “So what you do is have all your items that are in the pantry or fridge, put it into the app and the app will actually design recipes using your items. It will prioritize the produce because that generally goes bad faster.”

But this is the last year 59 Days of Code will be held. Soberal and Olguin say it’s no longer needed.

“It was designed to prove that there was technological talent in Fresno and it did that,” Soberal says. “But what the board of directors realized is that now we’re putting on an event and not causing an innovative result.”  

Basically, he thinks 59 Days of Code has done its job by bringing technologically inclined people together. Today 28 companies are housed at Bitwise and over 700 people have taken courses there.

Edgar Blunt runs Career Pillar out of Bitwise Industries in Downtown Fresno. He says he chose to plant his company in Fresno.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

In a 9 foot by 10 foot room at Bitwise cramped with three work stations, a couch and dry erase everything, a company called Career Pillar has a found a home.

Edgar Blunt is one of the founders of the company. He’s created an online interactive resource for job tutorials.

Blunt spent over 20 years as a job recruiter.  He says he could of landed his company in Silicon Valley easily, but ignored offers and chose to develop his company in Fresno.

You’ve picked Fresno as your launching pad or this place to call home. Why Fresno?”

“Fresno is a great place to find talent that is underutilized and we’re excited about being a part of something that can help change the landscape the thought and idea of the Valley,” Blunt says.

But Career Pillar is just one of many companies that have decided to stake claim in Fresno.  In 2000 the creators of the marketing research company Decipher decided to set up shop in Fresno.

Decipher was established in 2014 in Fresno. The owners chose to establish the company in Fresno instead of Palo Alto where the idea originated.
Credit Decipherinc.com

“We chose Fresno because access to talent is paramount for our ongoing success,” says Jamin Brazil one of the co-founders of Decipher. “Given that Fresno did not have a lot of technology companies or hasn’t at least historically   provided us unfettered access to really Fresno’s best.”

Today the company’s research and real time survey performance software is used by companies like Facebook, Visa and eBay.

Brazil says Decipher’s presence in Fresno is part of the changing tech scene in the region.

“There has been this perception that if you want to be in technology you need to move out of this area,” Brazil says. “Now graduates or pre-graduates say I can start working and say I have these options either now or in my near future.”

Back in Downtown Fresno there’s talk of expansion. Down the street from the current Bitwise building is the site of what will soon be Bitwise South Stadium. At one time the 52,000 square foot building was a three story indoor car dealership.

The showpiece of the Bitwise South Stadium will be the groups theater. The open space sits on what was once a ramp for the indoor car dealership.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

“When you walk in the door in eight to 10 months from now you’ll see polished concrete floors, very modern white walls, a lot of glass and to your right and all the way the down to the back side of the building you’ll see technology companies of all stripes,” Soberal says.

But Soberal says what he and his team are creating won’t be like Silicon Valley or San Francisco – because they can’t be.

“We’re Fresno and we should be Fresno,” Soberal says. “To the extent that we keep trying to replicate others we will fail.”

In less than a year Bitwise hopes to open the door even wider to technological innovation in the region.